Improving Rural Water Quality Testing Programs in the US: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial in Iowa

Friday March 24, 2023
12:10pm - 1:30pm
241 Giannini Hall | 12:10-1:30pm
David Keiser | UMass Amherst, Agricultural & Resource Economics Friday Seminar Series
About this event


The US EPA estimates that approximately 23 million households in the US rely on private wells for drinking water. These wells are not federally regulated and most states provide little oversight or assistance. Despite concerns regarding contamination, testing is infrequent. This study seeks to better understand household testing behavior, the effectiveness of a simple intervention to increase testing, and the willingness to pay for in-home water quality test strips. First, the paper summarizes drinking water behavior and perceptions from a large-scale survey of rural households that rely on private wells in Iowa. In this area, residents’ water sources are particularly vulnerable to nitrate pollution from agriculture. Next, we utilize a randomized control trial to study how nitrate test strips and information about a free, comprehensive water quality testing program influences testing and drinking water behavior. We find that this intervention significantly increased testing, including high quality follow-up testing. We find some evidence of a limited change in averting behaviors. Finally, using a real payment experiment, households reveal a willingness to pay for nitrate test kits that exceeds their costs.